I recently read an article written by Joe Posnanski regarding the late great Duke Snider. Admittedly, I knew little of him, other than associating him as one of the game’s great centerfielders. However, there was one passage within the article that immediately caught my attention. Mr. Posnanski was comparing Carlos Beltran’s and Raul Ibanez’ playing style in the outfield. Over the same stretch of real estate, Ibanez looked like he was running for his life uphill, against the wind dragging an anchor. Beltran, on the other hand, was silky smooth like a Lena Horne track and a scotch on the rocks on a cool summer night. (For the record, those are my comparison descriptions, not Mr. Posnanski’s). To get to the point, he identifies Carlos Beltran as the better outfielder, further stating:
“And yet … I have absolutely no doubt that Beltran has been booed countless more times for his defense than Ibanez. Why? Well, in part because Beltran has the curse of gracefulness. Beltran never quite looks like he is giving full effort. He never seems to be pushing against the edges of his potential. There may be some truth to this — maybe Beltran has not always given full effort, and maybe he has not always lived up to his potential. But who does? Anyway, he is trying much harder than it looks like he’s trying.”
The curse of gracefulness. Garret Anderson instantly came to mind. Never looked like he was running that fast, or swinging that hard. I remember local media ripping him for lack of hustle. To make another admission, I was not a Garret Anderson fan back in the late nineties. Back then I was an Erstad, Salmon, and DiSarcina guy. It seemed like we always had a crowded outfield and Garret was always talked about as a potential trade candidate. I was all for it, especially after watching Erstad try to single handedly take down the centerfield wall. That was more my style. When they traded Edmonds rather than Anderson, I was baffled. How could they trade the guy that made arguably the greatest centerfield catch ever over the guy that trotted around in left?
You see, I had been fooled by the curse of gracefulness. I, like many others, mistook his smooth style and quiet demeanor as lackadaisical and aloof. I mistook his often bland expressions as those of boredom. Man oh man, was I wrong.
As we closed out the nineties and moved into the 2000’s, I began to see him in a different light. I think a lot of it had to do with some significant events in my own life. In 1997 I joined the Marine Corps. In 2000 my first daughter was born. As I worked full time at a bank, was a Marine Reservist, and went to school at night to finish my degree, I really started to appreciate hard work and tenacious determination. As I discovered that good things do not come easily, I started to really see and appreciate just how great Garret Anderson was as a player and an individual. During the time when sports stars were more interested in making cell phone calls from end zones and steroid fueled sluggers were busy inflating their heads (literally and figuratively) and home run numbers, there was Garret Anderson.
You never knew how good he was because he never talked about it. Pretty much no one outside of Anaheim knew how good he was until the 2003 All Star game. It was the ALCS in 2002 that really made me a fan of his. He closed out a game three win against the Twins with a sliding catch in shallow left……and he smiled! And not just any smile, it almost jumped off his face! He did have a personality! My daughter and I, then two, danced in the living room. She had no idea what was going on, but we were having a blast. After that, he slowly crept into my consciousness. My previous assessments of aloofness and a lax attitude were replaced by a quiet leadership style, hard work ethic, and an easy going confidence that appeared to be contagious. And man, he just kept on hitting!
Incidentally, Garret Anderson became my daughter’s favorite player. She almost got his autograph at a 2007 game but lost out in the mass of kids (and adults) as he walked over to the stands. When games were on, I would yell when he was up to bat, and she would come running in to watch, cheering when he got on base, and sulking off if he did not. I was very thankful that she had chosen an athlete to admire that was not a self-absorbed diva mega star, but a blue collar all around solid guy. GA never made a bad headline, gave back to the community, and just played the game. The curse of gracefulness transgressed the field of play and permeated his personal and professional life outside the diamond. Of all the curses to have, this one is not bad. Not bad at all.
So how do I title this entry? This bloggers favorite player retires? Nope, Bobby Grich is my all-time favorite. Sorry Garret, he got there early on. You will have to come back as a coach to beat him out. All time Angel’s great? Too generic. All around great guy? It states the obvious. The curse of gracefulness? I feel that would take away from both the recent passing of the Duke and Anderson’s retirement announcement.
No, I think I will leave the title as is. Over the course of his career he inspired in me many emotions, from general dislike, to frustration, followed by indifference, respect, admiration, and finally, dismay when he was let go by the Angels. I will forever argue that letting him go was a mistake.
So Garret, thank you for being a great player for a fan like me to follow, for being a great role model to our youth, and for setting a shining example that it is not about accolades or contracts, but how you play the game. Enjoy your time with the family, and the deserved well wishes from the fans, coaches, and peers.